We recently purchased a new car. Previously, I drove a small sedan. Now, because we are adopting a fourth child, my husband and I decided it was time to bite the bullet and go for the gas chugging SUV. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why is she telling me about her new car?” It’s an important detail only because it means that my family now sits higher on the road. It means we have a bird’s eye view of what is happening in the cars around us. It means when a teen couple is making out in the car beside ours, my 13-year-old son looks on wide eyed.

My first instinct was to shift to park and cover Micah’s eyes, to protect his purity. Then my son spoke, “Mom, why are they doing that? Don’t they know we can see them?” In that moment, I realized I could squander or seize the opportunity. I also understood the magnitude of my words. I could talk about God’s plan for intimacy and sex, how it should be reserved for marriage, a notion that is more than a decade away, or I could get real with my son about the temptations he will face in the near future.

With every bone in my body screaming out to shield my son’s innocence, I took a breath, said a popcorn prayer, and carefully led into a conversation about the challenges of dating.

It wasn’t a perfect conversation. I’m sure I could have phrased things better, but there was no BETTER TIME to talk about sex, dating, and rock n’ roll. Well…rock n’ roll was on the radio, but the discussion was surprisingly easy and straightforward. I realized, more than anything, my son needed the reassurance he had a safe place to bring his questions.

If you’re reading this looking for five easy steps to initiate a conversation with your child about the tough stuff he or she will face, you should know, there’s no full-proof formula. However, I’ve learned there are a few ways to capture the teachable moments and make the most of them.

Seize the Opportunity

Teachable moments don’t always occur at convenient times. With only 10 minutes until we reached our destination, it wasn’t an opportune moment to discuss my son’s budding sexuality, but it was the RIGHT moment.

God has already placed everything within you that you will need to parent your child in the current season. Even if you don’t feel like it, you are equipped for any exchange and all circumstances. Leave yourself open to seize conversational opportunities as they arise with your child.

Identify the Underlying Issues

When Micah asked why the couple in the car next to ours was kissing, he wasn’t asking about the changes he’s experiencing as a result of puberty. He didn’t necessarily want to talk about what it means to be a virgin or how far is too far to go with his girlfriend. He just wanted to know why they were kissing in plain sight.

I could have avoided the underlying issue and shelved the conversation for another time. It’s what I would have preferred, but that small and seemingly insignificant question opened the door for a conversation I had been expecting for some time. Your impact as a parent is determined by your ability to anticipate your child’s emotional needs. Be ready to go where the conversation leads and willing to push through to the underlying issues.

Speak from a Place of Experience and Sincerity

Every parent wishes the best for his or her child. We don’t want our children to make the same mistakes we made. We want to spare them pain and consequence. Often times we approach our kids from a place of superiority and spirituality, but those methods rarely make a lasting impression. Kids love stories. They want to hear how you’ve faced something similar. They need to know you too have made mistakes.

When you approach your child from a place of experience and sincerity, it makes it easier to relate to you. Children are vulnerable. It’s why we protect them at all costs. It’s the reason we have car seat laws and a minimum drinking age. Vulnerabilities create unity when shared. I challenge you to offer up your own experience as an example for your child.

I find myself repeating phrases my mom and dad said to me as a child. I don’t remember the time, place, or circumstance in which they were spoken, but I know my parents never shied away from tough conversations. As a result, I’ve carried these significant life lessons into adulthood and parenthood.

The weight of parenting is never more apparent than when you are faced with an unexplainable situation or an unanswerable question. It’s also never more crucial. When teachable moments arise, push aside your parenting insecurities and step into the opportunity God has provided you.